Wordless picture books are often quickly dismissed as being too easy. But they are a powerful tool in developing literacy skills. In this post, you will discover how wordless books promote comprehension, acquisition of new vocabulary, listening skills and an understanding of story structure and character development.
What’s the Big Deal About Wordless Picture Books?
Picture books are a great way to introduce young children to the world of reading. They can be used as tools for teaching, and wordless picture books are some of the most powerful ones out there. Why?
Understanding books without words involves interpreting the illustrations as there is no text to rely on. This promotes comprehension, vocabulary, and listening skills and an understanding of story structure and character development.
Read on to discover seven reasons why wordless books should be an essential part of your classroom and school library.
Seven Reasons Why You Should Use Wordless Picture Books
1. Comprehension Skills
A well-rounded reader needs good comprehension skills. This involves figuring out conclusions about characters' actions based on previous events (including some you might not have expected) while guessing what could happen next!
Picture books without words develop a child's ability to infer what is happening in the story. With no words for guidance, they have to figure this out using the illustrations and their imagination. This develops comprehension and an overall understanding of story structure and plot.
Children need to practice retelling stories in interesting and exciting ways. Sharing wordless picture books with your students lets you model storytelling techniques, making connections, predicting, and questioning. With consistent practice, their independent responses will become more natural and detailed.
2. Confidence and Independence
Building confidence positively impacts a child's love of reading. Wordless picture books strengthen independence, particularly for young readers. A child feels confident and pride in reading a book by themselves. Despite the lack of text, they are still reading.
Teachers see every day how hard learning to read is. Supporting a child to pick up another book often depends on their previous reading experience. Children need positive reading experiences. Wordless books give children a break from decoding and the opportunity to focus on the story.
A wordless picture book benefits any child of any age and reading ability. There are many suitable wordless picture books for older students (for example, by David Weisner). For those children who struggle with reading, they can enjoy a wordless book independently.
Older children can refine their comprehension or storytelling skills. For younger children new to reading, a lack of text means they can focus on the illustrations, the story and the characters. Many books without words are works of art in their own right and don't look “too young” or “too easy.”
3. Verbal Skills and Discussion
Wordless picture books invite children to become active participants in the story. As there are no words, the flow of the story is not interrupted as it would when reading text. They encourage children to tell a story rather than reading the text or listening to an adult read.
This format lets you model how to describe the plot, setting and characters. You can discuss cause and effect, conflict resolution, add dialogue and elaborate on what is happening. Encourage creative thinking with new ways to retell the story in further readings.
Asking questions teaches children that clues to the story are not only in the text but also in the illustrations, for example:
- What is happening?
- Tell me about the characters. What are their emotions?
- What is the character thinking? How do you know?
- What is the character's goal/mission? How will they achieve their goal?
- Why did the character make this choice? Could they have made a better choice?
- What is the character going to do next? How will their actions affect the story?
- What do you think the character is saying? Why?
- What is the setting of the story? What do you notice about the setting?
- What will happen next? How do you know?
Give your students time to review or discuss the book before retelling it. Rushing leads to missed visual clues and a misinterpretation of the story.
4. Acquisition of New Vocabulary
Storytelling with wordless books increases vocabulary and verbal skills. Analysing the illustrations, plots and character actions will naturally introduce new and more complex words. Your students will incorporate them into their language as they understand their meaning and when to use them.
5. Visual Appreciation
Illustrations convey emotions, story details and foreshadowing. With wordless picture books, you blend words with art that tells a story, making each additional reading different. Looking for clues within the illustrations helps the reader interpret the plot. Transferring this skill to books with text helps children read unknown words. Pouring over the pictures removes the pressure some children feel when reading.
6. Story Structure and Sequencing
Wordless picture books lend themselves to developing storytelling skills by examining the story structure. This includes focusing on the sequence of events, particularly the beginning, middle and end and the order of important events.
Students should have an expectation of having to retell the story to keep them focused on plot events. Retelling improves the understanding that actions affect the plot's outcome in a particular order. Children can use picture books without words to focus on the plot and make connections.
7. Writing Skills
Using wordless picture books as story starters during independent writing activities. This provides opportunities to incorporate ideas from their reading, such as vocabulary, sentence structure, story structure and character development, into their independent writing.
Students can retell the story, add character dialogue and write an epilogue or a prelude. Using books as inspiration helps those children who struggle to develop creative ideas.
As you can see, wordless books should be a staple of any classroom, library or child's bookshelf.
What are your favourite wordless picture books? What is your primary purpose for using books without words with your students? Maybe you use them with older students. Let me know in the comments.
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